Family ties


Confucius said of Nan Rong: “In a well-governed state, he will not be overlooked for an official position. In a badly-governed state, he will avoid punishment and disgrace.” Confucius arranged for him to marry his niece.

Confucius continues his matchmaking activities in the second chapter of Book 5 of the Analects, this time arranging for a daughter of his elder step brother to marry Nan Rong, who is believed to have been one of his disciples.

Confucius’s step brother was the offspring of one of the concubines of their father Shuliang He (叔梁纥), whose wife had had given birth to nine daughters but failed to produce a male heir. Unfortunately, because he was born with a club foot he was not considered eligible to carry on the family name, so Shuliang took Confucius’s mother Yan Zhengzai (颜徵在) as another concubine at the age of sixty in order to preserve the family line.

Given that Zhengzai was only in her late teens or early twenties, their relationship must have raised quite a few eyebrows in the locality, but it did at least finally give the old man the son he had long been craving.

Shuliang died only three years after his son’s birth in 548 BC, leaving Zhengzai and Confucius poor and of uncertain social status because of the cloudy circumstances he had been born under. Unable or unwilling to live with Shuliang’s first wife and daughters, Zhengzai is said to have returned to her father’s home with Confucius and his step brother in the capital of the state of Lu.

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